The Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi.... or Was It?
October 4th is the Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi, well known and revered as the patron saint of animal lovers and ecologists. He was canonized as a saint by in 1228 by Pope Gregory IX.
Throughout New Orleans and elsewhere, The Feast of Saint Francis is a celebratory day. Animals of all kinds will be respected, loved, admired, blessed, and prayed for by priests, ministers, and clergy of many denominations.
It’s curious that the actual prayer of Saint Francis was clearly not written by Saint Francis of Assisi.
The earliest rendition of the prayer is best attributed to Father Esther Bourquerel in 1912. Published in a religious magazine called La Clochette (“The Little Bell”). It was also known as “A Beautiful Prayer to Say During Mass.” Indeed.
It is believed the poem, or hymn, was soon noticed by the Papacy and translated from French to Italian by Pope Benedict’s XV 1915. In 1927, a member of the French Protestant Movement then shared it as authored by Saint Francis of Assisi.
Later, during a time of war, the prayer was printed on a card with image of Saint Francis on the other side.
In the United Sates, the first known publication is attributed to Kirby Page, who again attributed the hymn to Saint Francis in his book, “Living Dangerously.” As people were again seeking faith and comfort, this time around the time of World War II, it was widely circulated.
The prayer of Saint Francis is universal in appeal and many recite it daily as a source of personal inspiration. And on October 4th, Saint Francis is officially celebrated, reminding all for our need for helping animals. As part of a bigger picture the prayer recognizes our country’s and for that matter, the world’s ecological well-being is threatened by consumption, commercialism, and consumerism. A 15 year-old child in Sweden, Greta Thunberg, has become a voice of reason regarding our climate change crisis.
In 2013, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected at the pontiff of the Catholic Church at the Vatican. He chose the name Francis acknowledging, Saint Francis of Assisi “is the name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome.”
In "Laudato Si," Pope Francis references an actual Hymn of Saint Francis of Assisi, the "Canticle of the Creatures." Pope Francis echoes Saint Francis’ praise for Brother sun, Sister moon, Brother wind, Sister water, and Brother fire.
In the coming weeks, Pope Francis will be calling together a meeting, the Pan Amazonian Synod. Held at the Vatican in Rome, the Synod aims to address issues such as climate change, the climate crisis, and the deleterious effect deforestation has had in the Amazon region of South America. Pope Francis’ upcoming Synod references “the cry of the earth and the poor.”
Also mentioned, not so cryptically, is “Mother Earth,” in the preamble to the meeting’s description: “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Theology.”
Pope Francis is the author of the of the Encyclical Letter, “Laudato Si,” translated in English to “On the Care for Our Common Home.” As one of the most influential men in the world, Pope Francis will, like young media darling Greta Thunberg, try to put a face on the ecological crisis facing the world today.
In a few short weeks, I will travel to Rome, mostly to attend the saintly Canonizations of five individuals, including Brazilian Dulce Lopes Pontes and the Swiss Marguerite Bays, who was a member of the Order of Saint Francis of Assisi, and John Henry Newman of England.
Upon my return I will travel to the Humane Society of New Orleans, Take Paws Rescue, or perhaps, the ASPCA, to find another new cat or dog to help raise and bring a rewarding life. A tiny measure recognizing but a miniscule fulfillment and adherence to the ethos of Pope and Saint Francis.
Pope Francis and Care for Our Common Home and his Pan Amazonian Synod will hopefully inspire all of us to take a closer look at the dangers facing our world today, because of the climate change crisis. We can all follow the lead of Greta Thunberg and Pope Francis. They are two, as disparate as imaginable, yet brilliantly reciting the same theme: Our world is in trouble and it desperately needs our help.